Wichita State surely was not on many NCAA Tournament brackets to advance to a regional semifinal. But there are the appropriately nicknamed Shockers in the Elite 8 after manhandling upstart La Salle, 72-58, Thursday in Los Angeles.
They join Syracuse, which knocked of No. 1-seed Indiana, 61-50; Marquette, which easily handled Miami, 71-61; and top-seeded Ohio State, which survived and advanced on another last-second three-point shot, this one by Aaron Craft to beat Arizona 73-70.
Of those moving on, Wichita State is the most surprising. If the ninth-seeded Shockers had fallen, it would have been equally surprising to 13-seed La Salle in the region semifinal. But Wichita State was significantly better, dominating the Explorers at the start of the game and never giving ground the rest of the way.
In advancing to the Elite 8 for the firs time in 32 yeas, the Shockers overwhelmed the Explorers with a 14-2 run. La Salle did not recover from that game-opening assault and trailed by 22 points in the first half and 20 in the second. Malcolm Armstead (18 points), Carl Hall (16) and Ron Baker (13) led Wichita State.
“It’s like I’m in a dream still with this whole Elite Eight situation,” Hall said. “I still can’t believe it, but anything is possible when you play defense and you’re peaking at the right time.”
The Shockers reward is an appearance in West Regional final against No. 2 seed Ohio State. The Buckeyes received strong late-game play from Ross, the Buckeye’s star reserve, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half against Arizona.
Ross made a series of tough shots, culminating with his game-winning three with 2.7 seconds to go.
“It feels great, man,” Ross said. “I think this is what every player grows up looking at on TV, wanting to hit that big shot for an NCAA tournament team. It just feels great right now.”
Syracuse was equally happy about shutting down No. 1-seed Indiana with its vaunted 2-3 defense.The 10-point victory does not indicate exactly how much the Orangemen dominated in holding the Hooisers to their lowest point total all season.
Marquette was equally dominant against ACC champion Miami. The Golden Eagles held the Hurricanes to just 16 points by halftime. From there, it was a breeze, which is different from Marquette’s first two games, a buzzer-beater by Vander Blue to avoid a first-game upset to Davidson and a comeback to beat Butler by two.
“It’s fantastic. It feels good not to have to worry about, are you going to lose on a last-second shot or are you going to win on a last-second shot?” Jamil Wilson, who had 16 points and eight rebounds. “To have a cushion like that, these guys played with tremendous heart, and we did it all game.”
And so, Big East foes Syracuse and Marquette will face off Saturday for the right to come to Atlanta for the Final Four.